AIR Macau, the Portuguese enclave's official carrier, is counting on tourist traffic from Taiwan to establish a regional network. The airline hopes that visa-free travel for Taiwanese going to China through Macau will enable it to develop the Macau-Taipei-Hong Kong link and regional destinations. Two Taiwanese carriers are scheduling flights to Macau for this reason. One analyst said visa-free travel for Taiwanese would be a trump card. Establishing a regional network would also make the airline an attractive partner for North American and European long-haul operators keen to extend their reach into China and the Asia-Pacific, according to commercial director Zhou Yunda. Marketing manager Foo Soo-tin said: 'We don't believe we will ever be a substitute for Hong Kong. But we want to develop a new gateway into China.' Air Macau started operations last month with one Airbus 321 flying twice-daily to Beijing and Shanghai. A second Airbus will begin twice-daily Taipei flights today. A third aircraft being delivered in January will enable the carrier to extend the network to Kaohsiung and Xiamen. Mr Foo said: 'In the short term, our priority is to develop a regional network focusing on China and Taiwan.' He said allowing Taiwanese visa-free access would enable the carrier 'to divert some China-bound traffic from Hong Kong'. Since hotels are cheaper in Macau than Hong Kong, tour operators are considering using the enclave as a base for package tours. Rather than staying in Hong Kong and making a day trip to Macau, holiday-makers could stay in Macau and make shopping trips to Hong Kong. 'The triangle of Macau, Taipei and Hong Kong could become quite critical,' Mr Foo said. Chinese visitors from Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand headed for China would also find it more economical journeying via Macau, he said. Singapore Airlines and Malaysian Airlines System hope to exploit the potential of this new gateway to China. Air Macau chief executive Ng Kian-wah, said: 'Air Macau is committed to the long-term aviation development of Macau and will certainly do everything in its power to provide a quality service for all our customers.'